Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 15 (1995)

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Cite as: 514 U. S. 211 (1995)

Opinion of the Court

such decision may be erroneous in any given case, still the evil effect following it, being limited to that particular case, with the chance that it may be over-ruled, and never become a precedent for other cases, can better be borne than could the evils of a different practice." 4 R. Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln 268 (1953) (First Inaugural Address 1861).

And the great constitutional scholar Thomas Cooley addressed precisely the question before us in his 1868 treatise:

"If the legislature cannot thus indirectly control the action of the courts, by requiring of them a construction of the law according to its own views, it is very plain it cannot do so directly, by setting aside their judgments, compelling them to grant new trials, ordering the discharge of offenders, or directing what particular steps shall be taken in the progress of a judicial inquiry." Cooley, supra, at 94-95.


Section 27A(b) effects a clear violation of the separation-of-powers principle we have just discussed. It is, of course, retroactive legislation, that is, legislation that prescribes what the law was at an earlier time, when the act whose effect is controlled by the legislation occurred—in this case, the filing of the initial Rule 10b-5 action in the District Court. When retroactive legislation requires its own application in a case already finally adjudicated, it does no more and no less than "reverse a determination once made, in a particular case." The Federalist No. 81, at 545. Our decisions stemming from Hayburn's Case—although their precise holdings are not strictly applicable here, see supra, at 218—have uniformly provided fair warning that such an act exceeds the powers of Congress. See, e. g., Chicago & Southern Air Lines, Inc., 333 U. S., at 113 ("Judgments within the powers vested in courts by the Judiciary Article


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